On The Philosophy Of Life

The news that the American poet John Ashbery
Had died, reminded me that he wrote, apropos
Of the possibility of promulgating a new moral climate
[In the slipstream of counter-culture Haight-Ashbury]:
‘Still, there's a lot of fun to be had in the gaps between ideas.
That's what they're made for! '

Not only ideas - language is full of holes
Even down to the spelling.
Setting aside distinctions between fully peculiar and funny ha-ha
This is an opportunity then for me to register one gap
In my appreciation John - under my reprobation
At the form that your surname has taken in American English.

I had a fine, bright and dandy American friend once
Whose lustrous black hair betrayed his Italian origins
And his surname De Rosa. But he confided that his mother's
Family had English origins and that her surname had been Shrewsbury
Of which he rapidly averred his intense dislike
With its connotations to him of burying shrews.

This sounded appalling to me as I had been brought up
Thinking that the lovely old county town of Shropshire
Had a rather upmarket and sophisticated name
Even though it started life as Scrobbesburh / Scrobbesbyrig
Which may mean 'Scrobb's fort' or 'the fortified place in the bushes'
[It had been taken from the Welsh who knew it as Pengwern].

Many years later, when the British took Fort Duquesne in 1758, from the French
They built Fort Pitt around which the city of Pittsborough grew up
After Lord Jeffrey Amherst ordered smallpox contaminated blankets
To exterminate the Amerindians who opposed western expansion
Adding sadly that England is not ready for hunting them down with dogs.
Clearly it could have been Pittsbury but even I can see the flaws in that.

Sadly, I reckon we have had a bit too much of clever ambiguity
About the triumph of putting possibilities into play
Or what the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette calls transformations, surprises, gaps
In the drama of the mind at work - where poetry is not about ‘content'.
If we are talking about exploring the wild, uneasy, spikey, pesky places
Of a fully-lived life John, can ‘u' say you did your best - come the spade or ash?

by Keith Shorrocks Johnson

Comments (1)

wow! Looks like some some interesting revelations have been made here. However, am not too sure if I understand what the message, but I shall read more on the one to whom the piece is dedicated. I like the use of the enjambment, they make you flow in natural speech....great write up!